Based on these considerations from July, we gave FXForm2 a shot for generating forms from EMF models. It worked quite smoothly after we wrote the factories that defined how the custom data types used in our models should be displayed.
We found a few things that are worth noting:
Using Java Bean Validation
In order to validate our EMF models using the Java Bean Validation API (JSR-303) that comes with FXForm2, we wrote wrapper classes for those model elements that we wanted to add constraints to. We decided to not touch the generated code.
When you enter an invalid value into a field, FXForm2 won’t update the corresponding model attribute. The value you see in the form differs from the value in the model. The model thus always has a valid state.EMF validation typically works in a different way: you start the validation operation only after all model values were set. This allows for invalid states of the model.
An open issue seems to be (as least for us) the handling of a String-to-String Map attribute inside an EMF bean class that stores user-supplied key-value pairs which should be displayed as regular attributes of the bean. Antoine suggested a solution based on a custom control (with a factory and a skin), but it comes with a different visual appearance for the user-defined attributes. This is work in progress.
Recently, we have had a look at JavaFX libraries for generating UIs in a dynamic way. The idea is that we have a data model (a JavaBean class, an EMF model class, a model class with JavaFX properties,…) as input for some GUI builder that takes the model and generates a matching user interface with bindings between the model and the JavaFX controls. In a perfect world, this library would allow us to use a variety of data models and to customise the generated user interface.
We have had three candidates (all open source). As we use EMF a lot, two of them are based on EMF models.
This library has a broader scope than FXForm2 as it can generate an entire RCP application with a sophisticated visual model editor rather than just a couple of form fields. Or you can define your own controls and easily bind your EMF model instances to these controls, including support for drag & drop and undo/redo commands. An example of a user interface based on a “Contacts” model can be seen in Tom’s video from the link above.
This takes the idea of EMF Edit one step further. As the ECP website says:
The goal is to provide a one-click application based on a given EMF model. Besides the EMF model, no additional components have to be developed or generated.
So when you have your EMF model, you are only one click away from a complete client application with a model explorer, an editor, a persistence mechanism, and a couple of other nice things. The editor for the model attributes is similar to the data form generated by FXForm2, but it is embedded in an entire application whose pieces are customisable and extensible.
The bad news is that there is currently no JavaFX support for ECP. [Update]
As Tom Schindl has pointed out in the comments section, there is a first version of JavaFX support for ECP in one of the development branches of the e(fx)clipse project. See here.
We have not found the perfect solution yet. FXForm2 has a promising approach for easily generating forms, of which we are going to have a lot in our final product. It requires some tweaks to make it work with EMF models but that is a small obstacle. What worries me a bit is the maturity of this library: the latest version is 0.2.2. So is it ready for production use? Well, there’s at least one real-world application that uses it.
EMF Edit is a very powerful framework but does not generate controls on the granularity we require for most parts of our application. It will certainly be of use for fancy features like drag & drop and the command stack. Maybe we can combine its strengths with the power of FXForm2 for generating really rich forms.
The EMF Client platform has a very appealing one-click approach but it lacks support for JavaFX. Once this limitation is gone, we may give it another look. A major question will then be how far we can customise the basic layout of the generated application which by default is very different from what we have in mind for our user interface.